Mr Birling

Arthur Birling

Arthur Birling is a man with some reputation in the town. He is the owner of Birling and Co., a factory business which employs several girls to work on (presumably sewing) machines. He believes that his worker's pay is reasonable and states that he pays the normal wage for his industry, oblivious to the fact that his actions will have consequences. Birling is a Magistrate and he was Lord Mayor of Brumley two years ago. Arthur is the husband of Sybil Birling (Mrs Birling) and father of Sheila and Eric Birling. J. B. Priestley describes him as a "heavy-looking man" in his mid-fifties, with easy manners but "rather provincial in his speech."He describes himself as a "hard-headed practical man of business," and he is firmly capitalist, and right-wing in his political views. He has no concept of value other than wealth or social status, he himself is a social climber. He believes that he and his wife uphold right values.

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Mr Birling's Character Development/Changes

Mr Birling has not changed by the end of the play – he refuses to learn/take on board the Inspector’s lesson. As a result, the play ends with another phone call and the announcement of a second visit – perhaps from a ‘real’ Inspector. Priestley may be warning his audience of the dangers of not learning the lesson (of social responsibility) themselves.

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Priestley's message (Intended effect on the audien

  • Being co-founder of a Socialist Party, Priestley felt strongly about his political views in favour of socialism and these views are displayed prominently throughout An Inspector Calls.
  • Priestly used the character of Mr Birling to represent how the upper class frowned upon people below them in society.
  •  Priestley was concerned about the consequences of social inequality in Britain, and the disparity caused by wealth and class divide. He believed that what resulted from this were the very characteristics shown in Mr Birling (selfishness, inability to admit responsibility for his part in Eva's death, exploitative tendencies, power lust etc.) Priestley wanted to encourage his audience to dislike Mr Birling and to see him as a fool – by rejecting the attitudes held by Mr Birling, Priestley’s audience could lead a better life.
  • Throughout the play, Priestley makes it clear that there is a consequence for every action. Through Mr Birling's thoughtless actions of firing Eva Smith, his inability to admit his partial responsibility in Eva’s death, and Birling wanting to cover up for Eric stealing money, Priestley portrayed the evil side of money and capitalism, as well as his dislike for capitalism due to the lack of care in society for the poor.
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Mr Birling's Key Quotes (Act 1)

  •  ‘Arthur Birling is a heavy looking, rather portentous man’
  • Showing off to Gerald Croft ‘Giving us the port Edna?’ 
  • Showing off to Gerald Croft 'You ought to like this port, Gerald. As a matter of fact,  Finchley told me it's the same port your father gets from him.'
  •  Capitalism, Selfish ‘Now you have brought us together, and perhaps we may look forward to    a time when Crofts and Birlings are no longer competing but are working together – for lower costs and higher prices. ’
  • 'Sheila's a lucky girl - and I think you're a pretty fortunate young man too, Gerald'
  • 'Are you listening, Sheila? This concerns you too. And after all I don’t often make speeches at you-'
  • Naive, Capitalism ‘Fiddlesticks! The Germans don’t want war. Nobody wants war.’
  •  Dismissive 'I'm talking as a hard-headed, practical man of business. And I say there isn't a chance of war.'
  • Dramatic Irony ‘The titanic- she sails next week’-‘Unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable'
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Mr Birling's Key Quotes (Act 1)

  •  ‘Let’s say, in 1940- you might be having a little party like this - your sons and daughters might be getting engaged.’
  • Stubborn, Capitalism 'man has to mind his own business and look after himself.'
  • Arrogance, Showing off 'There's a fair chance that I might find my way into the next Honours List.' Just a knighthood, of course'-'But it’s a bit too early for that. So don’t say anything.'
  •  ‘So as long as we behave ourselves don’t get into the police court or start a scandal -eh?’
  • ‘Clothes mean something quite different to a woman. Not just something to wear and not only something to make 'em look prettier, but a sort of sign or token of their self respect.’
  •  Intimidation 'I was an alderman for years – and Lord Mayor two years ago – and I’m still on the Bench – so I know the Brumley officers pretty well'
  • Power Imbalance 'She was one of my employees and then I discharged her.'
  •  Remorseless ‘It has nothing whatever to do with this wretched girls suicide. Eh, Inspector?’
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Mr Birling's Key Quotes (Act 2)

  •  Patronising '(to Mrs Birling) What's the matter with that child?' 
  •  'And I do not propose to give you much more rope’
  • ‘A young unmarried girl is being dragged into this-'
  •  '(angrily, to Inspector) Look here, I’m not going to have this, Inspector. You’ll apologise at once.'
  •  ‘I’m a public man’
  •  ‘Is there any reason why my wife should answer questions from you. Inspector?’
  • '(dubiously) I must say, Sybil, that when this comes out at the inquest, it isn’t going to do us much good. The Press might easily take it up-'
  •  'Be quiet Sheila’
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Mr Birling's Key Quotes (Act 3)

  • 'I understand a lot of things now I didn’t understand before.’
  •  ‘I’ve got to cover this up as soon as I can’
  •  Wouldn't pay Eva an extra few shillings, yet attempts to bribe Goole '(unhappily) Look, Inspector - I'd give thousands - yes, thousands -'
  •  ‘You’re the one I blame for this’
  •  Arrogance 'You! You don’t seem to care about anything. But I care. I was almost certain for a knighthood in the next Honours List'
  •  Feels no guilt ‘There’ll be a public scandal’
  •  ‘Telling me to shut up – and so on’
  • ‘You ought to have stood up to him'
  •  ‘This makes a difference, y’know. In fact, it makes all the difference’
  •  Relentless 'Nonsense! You’ll have a good laugh over it yet! Look, you’d better ask Gerald for that ring you gave back to him, hadn’t you? Then you’ll feel better'
  • Foolish 'We’ve been had, that’s all.'
  • ‘The famous younger generation who know it all. And they can’t even take a joke.’
  • Plot Twist/ Cliffhanger ‘That was the police. A girl has just died – on her way to the infirmary.’ 
  • The final line: [As they stare guiltily and dumbfounded, the curtain falls.] 
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Mr Birling's Key Quotes (Act 1)

  • ‘I can't accept any responsibility. If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward'
  • Looks down on the Inspector 'I don't like your tone'
  • Conflict ‘[to Eric] Look – you just keep out of this. You hadn't even started in the works when this happened.’
  • 'We were paying the usual rates and if they didn't like those rates, they could go and work somewhere else. It's a free country, I told them.'
  • Capitalist View 'Well, it’s my duty to keep labour costs down, and if I’d agreed to this demand for a new rate we’d have added about twelve per cent to our labour costs.'
  • Capitalist View “If you don’t come down hard on these people they’d soon be asking for the earth.”
  • (Context) 'I didn’t suppose you did.'
  • Patronising ‘Nothing to do with you, Sheila. Run along’ 
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